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"I-5 South going into Seattle any old day of the week around noon."

Introduction

Seattle was recently ranked in a three-way tie with Los Angeles and SanFrancisco for having the worst traffic in the whole country.

I've lived in this area since the 70's, so it only seems appropriate to assemble my experience on Seattle driving to share with others who are having to deal with it for the first time.

We'll start with a review of your automotive equipment.
 
 

The Brake Pedal

This is the most important device on your car.  For the most part you can go without an engine, but the brake pedal is essential.

Use it early, often and liberally.  Always slow down twice as fast as you think you need to, because those cars in front of you with their brake lights on are probably slowing down in severe panic.

Don't be afraid of the idea of coming to a complete stop on any freeway at any time of day for any reason.
 
 

The Clutch

For the unfortunate ones who have a standard transmission, this will become the bane of your existence.

Yes, Seattle is a hilly place, but that's not why a stick is bad.  The main problem is that you spend most of your time crawling along between 0 and 5 MPH, which means that you're constantly needing to engage and disengage the clutch.

This can lead to cramping.  My advice is find someone who is moving out of the Seattle (good luck!) that might want to buy your car, and get yourself an automatic.

Otherwise you could end up with a "Popeye" left calf, and a lopsided walk.
 
 

The Turn Signal

An invitation to failure.  A turn signal gives other drivers a clue to your intent, which will draw every effort possible to prevent you from reaching your goal.  More about this when we get to maneuvers.
 
 

The Accelerator

Overrated.  After a while, you may forget where it is.  Many drivers already have.  You'll see them at green lights looking for it.

Great for revving your engine while you're sitting there going nowhere.

In rare cases you may get an opportunity to use the accelerator - savor these moments.  Most of the time when you do have an opportunity to accelerate, it will be short lived.  Expect on average roughly 1/4 mile.
 
 

Lookiloos

The next time you're on the freeway, and there's an accident pulled over to the side of the road, try this experiment:

As you approach, keep your eyes straight ahead, and stay up behind the car in front of you. Do not even look at the accident through the corner of your eye. Pretend its not even there, and focus straight ahead.

Just after you've passed the accident, take a look in your rearview mirror, and observe how far back the next car behind you is....

'Nuff said.
 
 

The Left Turn

Loads of fun.  Slow down, engage the turn signal and watch the on-coming cars speed up to prevent your execution of the turn.  This is of course excluding the usual case of the left turn in gridlock.  If you ever need to make a left turn in gridlock, just go home and go back to bed.

Often times there will be a left turn lane.  Some drivers don't use this feature - they contribute to road rage, which is outside the scope of this web page.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, a left turn lane is that center lane with outer yellow solid stripes, and broken yellow stripes just inside each edge, and curved "left turn" arrows painted in the middle.

The great thing about the left turn lane is that it gives you a place to stop and wait indefinitely for an opportunity to complete your turn.  This is a great place to change CD's, fix your hair, read a book, etc. while you're waiting (more on passing the time later).
 
 

Merging

While it is rare, I'm only going to address here the situation of merging into moving traffic.

Merging into a traffic jam is too similar to lane changing in a traffic jam, except that it helps to have a bottle of valium handy to deal with the shock realization that you could be on the freeway for the rest of your natural life.

Merging into moving traffic is similar to a game of chicken.  You will notice that the drivers in the lane you're trying to get into, for the most part, will act as though you're not even there - even in situations where your merge lane is rapidly become "concrete wall".

Its either the wall, the other cars or the brake pedal, and this is one case where the brake pedal can spell your doom, so its best to just to floor it, jerk the wheel over and force the car rushing up behind you to use their brake pedal.
 
 

Changing Lanes

This is a very tricky thing to do.  Like a basketball player, you want to give as few clues as possible about where you're headed - until its to late for the cars around you to react and block your way.  Head fakes can work wonders.

The other drivers will be watching your eyes and head.  If they see you from behind, checking for clearance they'll accelerate to keep you from changing over.  So be very careful not to be too obvious.  Quick glances and minimal sudden head movements are best.

At the moment that you're ready to switch, hit the turn signal (unless you don't want to be mistaken for a native) and hit the accelerator and switch over.  When done properly everybody will be shocked that they couldn't get in your way fast enough.
 
 

Aimless Drivers

At times it may seem like the car ahead of you has no intentional destination, and appears to be varying speed - usually no greater than 15 MPH below the speed limit.

At first glance one could assume that these drivers aren't really headed anywhere, however, this is not true.

You've got to remember that at any given moment, roughly 75% of the population just moved to Seattle ten minutes ago.  Most drivers don't know where they're going and will therefore drive very slowly looking for clues that might help them figure out where they are.
 
 

Lights

By lights, I refer to traffic lights.  Traffic lights in Seattle are carefully managed so that you will have to stop at red lights as often, and for as long as possible.  Waiting behind lights is inevitable, so it must be dealt with.

The best way to deal with lights is to adopt the mindset that your car is an extension of your house.  Traditionally when you're behind the wheel of your car, you're focused on driving - i.e. navigating an automobile from one point to another, steering, avoiding collisions, etc.  When you're stopped at a light while driving, you're basically waiting.

The fix is to set up your car to be sort of a personal rolling library.  By doing this, you can get the lights working in your favor.  For instance you can get yourself wrapped up in a really good book or magazine at one light, and then when the light turns green, make note of the page you're on, and set it down.

You will find yourself wishing for another red light so you can continue your read.  Don't worry, you won't be disappointed.
 
 

Pedestrians

Most pedestrians in downtown Seattle apparently want to get hit by a car.  This is a fairly new and disturbing development.

You can almost hear them screaming "Hit me! Hit me!!".  This is evidenced by the fact that they will jump out in front of you while you're cruising through an intersection where you have the green.  They'll be waving their arms in the air, as if your car was a soccer ball and they were a goalie trying to stop you.

I have yet to find an explanation for this behavior.  I thought most people understood that getting hit by a fast moving 3000ish pound object could be dangerous to their health.
 
 

Ramp Metering

Ramp metering refers to lights that are placed on freeway on-ramps in congested areas (i.e. everywhere).  The idea is that the light is red and then turns green allowing one car to proceed onto the freeway at a time.  Theoretically, this reduces collisions at the on-ramp.

These devices appeared in abundance in the late 80's and early 90's.  Of course now, they rarely serve any useful purpose, since the on-ramps have become so stopped up with cars that the light flashes green at a faster rate than the cars can crawl bumper-to-bumper down the ramp.
 
 

Construction Zones

A little known fact, King County, in coordination with our local state government employ a team of phsycics to read the minds of drivers on the road.  Their job is to determine what the most popular and favorite traffic routes and shortcuts of drivers.

Once this has been determined, a team of road construction workers are deployed to the most appropriate areas at the most inopportune times.  They'll invariably shut down at least one lane of traffic.  One the crew's favorite games is to knock out one lane on a two-lane road and put stop/go flagmen on either end.  Then the fun starts....  Wagers are made, bets are taken and the contest begins to see how many miles back each flagman can get a line of cars before they switch over to the "go" sign.

They have the walkie talkies so that they can coordinate and keep track of the totals.  The one who keeps the most cars waiting by the end of the project wins.

Another favorite is to block off an entire stretch of road and put in detour signs that lead nowhere.

You'll notice that these construction zones move around.  As soon as a crew is finished in one spot, they are deployed to the next location.  Unfortunately, our local government cannot afford to have construction zones at all locations all at once.  What fun that would be!!
 
 

Conclusion

I'm sure there are more topics that could be covered.  They will be added as I find time.  Don't worry, in time I'm sure you'll adjust to being one of the glazed over herd that spends one third of their life here behind the wheel.
 
 

Related Sites

If you have a site that you think should be added here, please e-mail me:
  1. Fix Our Traffic!!
  2. Traffic Waves (cool)
  3. Here's some great stress relief, once you're off the road!
  4. Driver's Etiquette for Seattle
  5. Report HOV lane violators




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